Feeling stressed? Learning to move mindfully can help

When Tina Tait of East Atlanta exercises, she's learned from yoga, to focus on her breathing not her to-do list.

"I've learned to count by breath, and pay attention so much more to my breath than I ever used to," Tait says.

Her morning workouts are part sweat, part settling her mind down.

"When I get panicky, when I get thoughts I don't want to think about, I don't try to push them away, and I don't get mad at myself for thinking them," Tait explains.

Penn State University researchers found Tait may be onto something.

Studying college students, who rated their mood several times a day using an app called Paco, they found those who moved "mindfully," using their walking time to clear their heads, felt less stressed.
And the researchers says their findings, published in the journal Psychology of Sports and Exercise, showed that even moderate exercise, like taking a walk, combined with mindfulness, was enough to help boost the participants' sense of wellbeing.

"But, if you're thinking about your to-do list while you're walking, you may not be getting the full benefit of that walk," says Emory internist Dr. Sharon Bergquist.

She says many of have a hard time turning off our racing thoughts, even when we're exercising.

"Because while we're walking, we're getting texts, we're getting phone calls, we're getting email messages that are coming through," Bergquist says.

If you're feeling pulled in 10 different directions, Bergquist recommends try centering yourself by meditating while you move. It's something she's been doing for several years now.

"I think it's very hard when you're first starting," she says "I can say from personal experience, I probably lasted 15 seconds in the beginning."

To center yourself, Bergquist says find something you can focus on.
Concentrate on your breathing, or the ambient sounds of the birds around you, she suggests.

"If your mind starts to stray in 30 different directions, don't get mad, don't get upset, don't pass judgment," Bergquist says. "Simply just shift your focus back to whatever you're trying to concentrate on."

Learning to move mindfully requires practice.

"It is really something that you have to train for," Bergquist says. "And, it's something that, if you're deliberate, you get better and better and you have to build on it."

Tina Tait says her morning run or walk centers her, and sets the pace for the rest of the day.

"The hardest thing for me is just to let myself go, and be in the moment," Tait says. "But when you can get there, it's a magical spot."